[Editor's Note: RainSoft is suing me over the article regarding my and my wife's personal experience as described below.]
You may have noticed that Lazy Man and Money didn't publish an article yesterday. That's because the half hour that my wife and I put aside for an in-home water test stretched to three hours. I love losing 2.5 hours of productivity, don't you?
Let me rewind a little bit. About 6 weeks ago, we got the standard water report for our community. In one area, TTHMs, it was over the EPAs limit by about 1% - instead of 80 parts per million allowed, there were 80.7. That didn't exactly scare me, but with a 10-month old baby, my wife was motivated to see if we can do better. A little research showed that our Brita water pitcher didn't reduce TTHMs. However, this PUR faucet water filter that we found at Home Depot did, so we got one.
While at Home Depot, we saw something about a free water test. We knew this was going to lead to a sales pitch, but figured that it couldn't hurt. We took a sample and mailed it in. Of course it came back with "problematic" results (maybe not their exact words my wife took the call). The company was happy to send out someone to talk to us in person.
RainSoft's "Magic Show"
It turns out that the company is RainSoft. The salesman was super nice, and very friendly with our dog. Seemed like a nice guy, but every company can hire a few nice salesmen. He pulled up his briefcase with his water contraption and proceeded to do a multitude of tests of our water from three sources: tap water, Pur filter, and water through his filter.
The demonstration started with him adding some chemicals and a yellow dye to each bottle. He explained that this just expands what's in the water and makes it easier to see. What surprised me is that water from the Pur filter was essentially unchanged from our tap water. They each were quite foggy with something that appeared to be a "phlemmy-type" substance flowing in it. The water from the RainSoft was clean, except for the yellow dye.
The salesman referred to this as a "problem" with our water. I took issue with this. I would compare it to evaluating TV reception. If you wanted to expand one area of a TV screen really large, you'd likely see imperfections in a broadcast. In reality no one watches TV like that. In normal use, the picture has no "problem", but maybe it isn't ideal. I am willing to admit that my friend's Samsung TV has a better picture than my cheap Element from WalMart, but I wouldn't characterize my TV screen as having a "problem." In the same way, I could give the salesman his due that it looks better, but it doesn't mean that what I currently have is problematic (it also doesn't mean that it isn't problematic). Similarly, my car after the car wash looks better, but it doesn't mean that because I haven't washed in a couple of days, I have a "problem" on my hands.
A Break in the Story
It has cost me thousands of dollars in lawyers fees to defend my right to express my opinion to help save you money. It's much more money than this article will ever make. Ironically I would have been much better off just spending the thousands on RainSoft system.
I really love helping people, but as the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.
If you believe this article saved you money, I humbly ask that you consider paying it forward. You can help keep this article alive for others by making a donation via GoFundMe.
Back to the "Magic Show"
The salesman also did a chlorine test that showed 1.5 parts per million (ppm). However, the point was made that "We are drinking chlorine, a poison!" He didn't scream that or anything, but certainly played up the point. He told a story about how soldiers in some war were given super-chlorinated water to kill all the other bad stuff and 100% of them had some sort of malady. When I asked how much chlorine (ppm) they had, he said that he didn't know and it probably wasn't known in the study. So some huge amount of chlorine is bad for me, I agree. However, 1.5ppm doesn't seem like much. It's a little like how apple seeds contain cyanide. I'm sure I've had an apple seed, but I didn't die. Just like how the body can defend itself well enough with from a small amount of cyanide, perhaps it can do the same with chlorine. I wonder how many bad things like chlorine are in other foods and drinks I consume? Maybe it is enough to make the 1.5ppm an insignificant factor, right?
As you can tell, I'm a skeptical person by nature. I love to think about how, if I wanted to be devious, I could pull it off. For example, the bottles he brought with him that were labeled for our water could have been laced with contaminants. I'm not saying they were, but it's possible. Conversely, the bottle for the clean could have had been laced with something that reacts to the chemicals he used to make it appear clear. We aren't versed in these chemicals or the validity of the tests. I presume very few people are, so it really could be, as my wife put it, a "magic show."
In fact, there is a YouTube video showing how the TDS (Total Desolved Solids) test doesn't necessary tell you much. The whole video is interesting, but relevant part for our test started at the 4:56 mark.
If you don't care to watch the video, the key thing to note is that a high TDS could be measuring either harmful chemicals or beneficial minearals. After he measured both our tap and Pur to show that the TDS numbers are high, I brought a glass over to test what his RainSoft filtered water was. He wouldn't test it. He explained that RainSoft's reverse osmosis filter is better suited for that and that system isn't portable enough to bring in for the demonstration. So in short, he had nothing helpful to demonstrate with regard to TDS.
Since the Pur filter didn't seem to perform better in any of the RainSoft tests, I asked the salesman if the product was fraudulent. He's telling me that I have a problem with my water and Pur has published that it takes certain impurities, so I put it on him to tell me which ones were being left behind from the Pur. He couldn't help with that. I may have took it a little too far in suggesting that we should stop what we are doing right now, contact a lawyer, and sue Pur, because from what he's showing me, it does absolutely nothing. He wasn't too keen on that and just wanted to show us what the Pur wasn't cleaning. I was disappointed in this because he just showed visuals, he wasn't actually able to say something like, "See you still have 75ppm of TTHMs with Pur, where RainSoft filtered water has zero." That's what I was expecting from an in-home water test.
RainSoft's Money Saving Pitch
Throughout the "magic show", there were questions about how much we spend on various things related to our water use. For example, he asked how much bottle water we use. We use about two gallons a week of this Pure water from Gerber that is around $1.
Then he asked about our grocery spending and used that to attempt our soap/shampoo/cleaning products use. This was a horribly failed experiment because we are not the typical family. Our cleaning service uses their own products. My wife has a fancy salon shampoo that she hugs at night (I kid, but there's no way she is giving that up). He translated this to about $50 a month from using a low-end of our total grocery bill.
Next up, he calculated that people typically replace one appliance a year worth around $365, so that cost is about a dollar a day - or $30 a month.
He used these numbers to show what we are already spending on water - $82 a month or $984 a year... and nearly $20,000 over 20 years. Holy statistics gone wrong, Batman. I didn't realize that RainSoft is going to make my appliances last forever. The pitch was that they'll last longer without the hardness of the water gumming up the pipes. However, putting the whole $1 in there means that we'd never buy another appliance, which I highly doubt. If it makes appliances live 20% longer, then I'd buy putting $0.20 a day in there. However, a friend who has put some research into these systems, suggested that I avoid any system where you use salt as it will actually shorten the life of the appliances. I haven't verified this (more on why later), but it is worth noting.
The soap number is a little trickier to explain. One of the "magic acts" was how a few drops of soap in RainSoft clean water foams up much more than in our tap water. This was a convincing part of the show, but it doesn't mean our soap is going to be free. It also doesn't address how over-estimated the $50 number is in the first place. I would have put it at closer to $12 and even that might have been high. This is where the kicker came in. If we bought today, we'd get 5 years of some free super organic soap and cleaning products. So there are some soap savings in there. It included some 47 bottles of shampoo. I just finished up using a bottle that I had for over 2 years and it was around $1.25. With the cleaning service using their own products, the value of this free soap would be to throw on Ebay or donate for a tax write-off. Sadly, I can't even find the name of soap anywhere to do more research on it.
Finally we'll still buy the water our pediatrician recommended, so we won't save any money there. When you are done that $82 number shrinks considerably. I'm not sure if it is $10 or $20, but it's probably closer to that.
Not only that, but the RainSoft solution has ongoing costs. Every 5 or 6 weeks you have to buy a bag of salt tablets. The RainSoft salesman said it was $5 at Home Depot. That's means buying it around 10 times a year coming to roughly $50 a year. There are filters you have buy every so often as well. My wife wrote down those numbers, but it's a hundred dollars here and there, certainly not free.
Uncovering RainSoft's Red Flags
Aside from what appear to be false promises on it saving money, here are a few other red flags that I came across.
I won't hide it, the "free soap" really got under my skin. No one "gives away" $2700 worth of anything for free. The salesman said that it is clearly a bribe, because when they leave 80% of the people don't call them back. I have a pile of thoughts on this:
- The theory about people not calling them back because they get busy with other things in life doesn't really hold water (pun intended). We proactively contacted them in the first place. We are honestly interested in a good, clean water solution. It's not like they came to our house and we really weren't interested or on the fence.
- Every time a company has put forth a big bribe to buy the product right away, I've found that it wasn't a great deal. (I'm lookin at you Marriot Vacation Club. My feeling is that they don't want you to do the research, because you might uncover a bunch of red flags.
- If you are going to offer me something only for today, I'm certainly not going to buy your product at all tomorrow. If I go and read all the reviews and it checks out, I'm still going to pass unless they give us the soap, otherwise they've taken away a significant portion of the value they originally presented me. Maybe that's why 80% of people don't call you back, RainSoft. Perhaps you should give the 20% who do call you back after doing the research two soap packages. Work on increasing that 20% number through great customer support, not a high-pressure sales tactic.
- How much cheaper would the RainSoft filtering system be if they weren't giving away all this free soap? It's quite obvious to everyone that in order to subsidize the "free soap" they have to charge more for the core product, right? (Yet another reason why I would want my "free" soap if I'm buying this.)
The salespitch went through appliances and asked about warranties and how they are 1, 3, or 5 years if you buy an extended warranty. Well, RainSoft is going to give a lifetime warranty. However, that warranty doesn't cover labor. From the reviews I've read online people have needed multiple appointments of $80 a piece to fix the system. It seems to me that if you are going to stand behind your product enough to give it a lifetime warranty, you should stand behind its ability to work as intended as long as the customer didn't do anything to sabotage it. If I have a lifetime warranty and it costs me $80 a month for repeated maintenance, what is the warranty actually giving me? It's an extreme example to expect it to break down every month, but I'm just using it to make a point.
What people say in various forums is interesting itself. When I read about people needing it repaired multiple times, other people in the forums wrote that these people leaving poor reviews probably work for competitors because theirs works fine. I always laugh about that, because no one really knows the truth and the people giving suppositions about why other people are writing have no clue if some are getting faulty products. I'm more inclined to think that RainSoft people are trying to explain away legitimate complaints.
We can go round and round on these reviews all day. The salesman even said that people do research and then point out that 15 people had complaints. He then says that 15 people out of the 3 million (or whatever the amount they sold) is a pretty high satisfaction rate. However, if I were to show you a product on Amazon that has 15 negative reviews and no positive ones, would you buy it? How about a seller on Ebay that had 15 negative reviews and no positive ones? Probably not. I'm not saying that RainSoft has no positive reviews, but I didn't come across too many in quite a few searches. The ones I did find were on sites like RainSoftOfDesMoines, clearly a RainSoft site.
There were a few different products pitched to us, but the main solution was their EC4 unit. That runs $4888. There was also a $1200 Point of System (POS) reverse osmosis system for cleaning our drinking even more. Interestingly the tests didn't use that system and supposedly the water was purely clean already, so this is just an extra layer of filtering. Interestingly, people in 2010, were getting pitched an EC4 system that costs $2750 due to an "overshipment". Combine this with the $2700 in free soap the person was offered and I really have to question why I'd pay nearly $5000 or $6000 for what they offered me.
I asked about a lower cost unit for our rental properties (since they save appliances for an infinitely long time) and the salesman offered a version that doesn't have the computer control at the top. He said that instead it used a timer, which isn't nearly as accurate. This version is $1000 cheaper. It's apples and oranges, but a new Nexus 7 has wifi, one of the best screens around, bluetooth, etc... all for $229. It seems like paying $1000 for a one-trick pony computer is very, very overpriced.
The RainSoft people had a financing solution available. I didn't have a calculator handy, but asked him to be straight-up, "What's the APR on that?" His response was that it was 17%. So essentially, they are going to consider close to an overdue credit card. Thanks a ton, RainSoft. I wouldn't use their financing, but that certainly doesn't instill confidence.
Is RainSoft a Scam?
This article is already long enough. I believe I'm certainly forgetting some valid points on both sides, but I wonder if people are still reading ;-). I don't want to say that the RainSoft EC4 product doesn't work. They did a handwashing test and my wife could really tell the difference. They did a cleaning a drinking glass test and there was a huge difference there. From what I'm reading though, the quality is closer to mid-level, but it is really high-priced (hence why they can afford to drop it $2200). Combine that with the high-pressure sales tactics (the "free soap"), and other slightly deceptive practices (the TDS count, the 17% financing, the "lifetime" warranty) and I'm not inclined to buy their product.
That said, I recognized that my wife was impressed by the product, so I agreed to a $100 deposit to keep our "free soap" option open. It seems like at a minimum, I've got to call up and officially cancel to see if I can get the good pricing. However, I'm much more likely to move on to another company that prices their product competitively to start with, so I don't have to play these games.
One last housekeeping note, I purposely included Home Depot in the title, because they have some affiliation and I believe that's how most people find out about RainSoft.
Update 1: Looking for advice you can trust? Here's a guide to water purification covering some of the top rated products from various retailers without biased salesmen using scare tactics or erroneous logic about their products saving you money (see update 2 below).
Update 2: Consumer Reports has reported about the scare tactics that water filter companies use. That article specifically cites action that Massachusetts has taken against a couple. One of those includes Basement Technologies which sells RainSoft products.
Have you ever installed a water purification system? If so, who did you use? (Was it RainSoft?)
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